AstaReal, a division of Japanese giant Fuji Chemical Group, was one of the pioneers of algal astaxanthin. It has made significant recent infrastructure investments in its facility at Moses Lake, WA. While the breakup with NAXA is characterized as cordial, AstaReal said it can now emphasize the quality advantage it says its new production capability affords. Remaining within NAXA would perpetuate the notion that all algal astaxanthin ingredients are created equal, said Joe Kuncewitch, national sales manager for AstaReal.
“NAXA membership may give the false impression that all members are offering astaxanthin of equivalent quality. However, NAXA only confirms that member companies are producing astaxanthin from algae. They don’t perform extensive quality testing,” Kuncewitch said.
"We have a truly unique cultivation process that produces the purest and highest potency astaxanthin available,” he said.
Natural vs synthetic
The departure of AstaReal is a blow and points to some of the inherent tensions within a single ingredient association. It’s similar to trying to hold a military alliance together. Is everyone pulling their weight? Are weaker, lower quality members riding on the coattails of the stronger ones? The example everyone in the dietary supplement industry points to as to how such an association should be managed is GOED. While instructive, the example is not strictly analogous in that that organization is more than a decade old, and is underpinned by a vastly larger market with more potential companies as dues paying members.
NAXA was founded with a fairly narrow brief, in that it was meant to put some muscle behind the message that astaxanthin from algae was substantially different from synthetic astaxanthin which is derived from petroleum. The chemical formula of the two ingredients is identical—C40H52O4—but the sterioisomer structure is different. While this may be of little physiological importance in some substances, the promoters of natural algae astaxanthin claim that it is a crucial difference in astaxanthin and that all of the clinical evidence underpinning the ingredient's health benefits pertains to the algae-derived forms.
AstaReal chief scientific advisor Kazayuki Miyakawa said that even though the company is withdrawing from NAXA it won’t back away from the association’s core message.
“AstaReal will continue to independently educate consumers that only natural astaxanthin from H. pluvialis should be used in supplements and functional foods and beverages,” Miyakawa said.
Focus on health benefits
Scott Steinford, president of NAXA, chose to put a positive spin on the move, saying that AstaReal can now carry the torch on making the natural vs synthetic case, whereas NAXA itself will focus on trying to grow the overall market. Steinford also emphasized that the timing of AstaReal’s withdrawal and the arrival of Alphy Biotech as a new member was purely coincidental.
“We are choosing to focus on the education and awareness of the astaxanthin market,” Steinford told NutraIngredients-USA.
“The market for astaxanthin is not nearly as big as for CoQ10, probiotics or fish oil/omega-3s. We are a small, startup organization and we have to be strategically focused. We have an additional burden the other organizations (Steinford also runs the CoQ10 Association) don’t necessarily have to contend with and that’s market awareness. Right now we believe that the awareness of astaxanthin stands at less than 10% of consumers,” he said.
Steinford said that the association intends to broaden its membership to include finished goods brands as well as suppliers, much as GOED has done.
“We want to focus on the overall health benefits of astaxanthin. Why should a brand sell it, or a consumer take it?” Steinford said.